Efforts to Reduce Single-Use Plastics are Put on Hold During the COVID-19 Pandemic


(Via Flickr)

Nicole Welle | May 18, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused states to suspend bans on plastic bags, and some grocery stores are no longer allowing customers to shop using reusable bags due to public health concerns.

States like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Hawaii, New York, Vermont and Oregon have all moved to ban the use of plastic bags in recent years to reduce plastic waste, but they are being forced to reconsider these bans as COVID-19 has made shopping with reusable bags unsafe. Because the virus can live on surfaces, contaminated reusable bags could become a health risk to store employees and other shoppers who come in contact with them or the surfaces they are placed on, according to an npr article.

Many stores that have not provided customers with lightweight plastic bags for years have had to begin stocking them again. Stores in California are also no longer charging 10 cents per bag as was required by law before the pandemic started, according to an article in The Mercury News.

Much of the personal protective equipment, like gloves, masks and other face and body coverings, required during the pandemic also has plastic components. As more businesses are allowed to reopen, the use of PPE by the public going out for the first time is likely to increase. Many businesses are now requiring customers to wear a face mask before entering, and many of the plastic face coverings used by the public are being discarded improperly.

Public health is a top priority during a pandemic, and these changes were necessary to maintain safe environments for shoppers and store employees. However, the increase in plastic bag use and improperly discarded PPE may take a toll on the environment. According to an article published by Environmental Health News, plastics are toxic to marine animals that ingest them, plastic in landfills can leach harmful chemicals into the groundwater, and plastics floating in the ocean can even serve as transportation for invasive species that disrupt habitats. Plastic production is also responsible for a large percentage of the world’s fossil fuel use.

Lawmakers are hopeful that these rollbacks on regulations regarding single-use plastics will be temporary, but they are unable to establish a timeline due to the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last.

Earth Day in the time of COVID-19: A Message from Co-Director Jerry Schnoor


Jerry Schnoor at Eawag
CGRER Co-Director Jerry Schnoor shares his reflections on the 50th annual Earth Day (contributed photo). 

Jerry Schnoor | April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020, is not just another Earth Day.  It is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – the one that changed my life forever.  Naive and over my head as student body president at Iowa State-1970, my world was on fire with righteous indignation against a compulsory draft for an unjust War in Vietnam.  At times I actually thought that it would tear the country apart.

The first Earth Day strangely diverted my immediate attention, and the diversion would last a lifetime.  Brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and organized by Denis Hayes as a national Teach-In, Earth Da

 

y spawned immense bipartisan gatherings of 20 million people in the streets for one unifying goal – a healthy Planet Earth.  Earth Day ignited in me a realization that my chemical engineering education from ISU could morph into something green and more fascinating, that is, trying to understand water quality, biodiversity, and the biogeochemistry of Earth’s processes.  Discerning remedies for the massive disruptions that 7.7 billion people and an $80 trillion GWP can inflict on the earth has proven even more challenging.

This year we celebrate Earth Day with digital gatherings due to coronavirus.  It’s not the same, but perhaps the pandemic can teach us some valuable lessons.  Some people were slow to accept the dismal science of a spreading pandemic – they lacked trust in health professionals’ recommendations for social distancing, staying home, and closing businesses, sporting events, churches and social gatherings.  But the flattening curves of Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, and even Italy, Spain, and New York bear testament to the wisdom of their call.

Our national plan for the pandemic Covid-19 was non-existent, like the Emperor’s new clothes, plain for all to see.  Pandemics are “global disease outbreaks” and they require national plans and concerted global action.  As recently as 2003-2004, WHO mitigated much more rapidly a similar virus, SARS, by careful messaging and international cooperation of 11 labs in 9 different countries.  U.S. and Chinese scientists together developed a vaccine within a year.  Far too little cooperation exists today, both at home and abroad.  Politics and hyper partisanship are disastrous in a time of global need.  We can do better.

Analogies between climate change and our pandemic response are obvious.  We have no national plan for either.  As a young egg-head professor at the University of Iowa, I published my first modeling paper on climate change and its consequences in 1994, many years after others had done so.  It projected (surprisingly accurately) the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today with business-as-usual.  That’s exactly what happened – business as usual.  If you had told me that the U.S. would still not have comprehensive climate change and energy legislation in 2020, I would have told you, “you’re crazy”.

But it’s in the history books.  We have failed to listen to the science and failed to reduce our gargantuan greenhouse gas emissions — the planet cannot take it anymore.  Now it really is a Climate Emergency.  What’s more, we are threatening to extinct 1 million species in the next generation as well – the Biodiversity Crisis.

Coronavirus humbles us all.  How can one not be moved by the sight of doctors, nurses, custodians, and admissions clerks risking their lives for the rest of us?  How can one not weep to see the miles of cars lined-up at food banks because families have nowhere else to turn?  Playing out in the richest country in the world gives great pause.

Yes, we need science-based decision making on coronavirus and on climate change, but we need compassion and understanding as well.  Noted columnist Sarah Van Gelder writes, “Changing hearts and opening minds begins when we listen”.  Imagine the world we want, where everyone is safe and healthy, where the air is clean and the water is pure. Then, let us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that spontaneous, bipartisan, original Earth Day by speaking from the heart and listening to each other.

Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Research at the University of Iowa.

 

COVID-19 Contributes To Largest Reduction of CO2 Emissions Since World War II


Maxwell Bernstein | April 17, 2020

The economic effects of COVID-19 are contributing to the largest reduction in carbon dioxide emissions since the end of World War II according to Newsweek. This year would entail the first reduction of carbon dioxide emissions since the 1.4% drop after the 2008 financial crisis. 

The economic standstill of COVID-19 is predicted to decrease global carbon emissions by 5% in 2020 according to Utility Dive, a website that covers topics on trends in the utility industry. 

This decline is due to less transportation-use and less demand on the power sector from commercial businesses; the two major drivers of air pollution. Fewer people are traveling and working in order to maintain social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.